Category Creativity

“Why do we need to know this?” [Connecting the classroom to the real world]

This past week the rethinkED team participated in a day-long think tank on how to re-invent the American High School, in an effort to develop a proposal for the XQ Super School Project. While I am excited to share some of the ideas we had, today I thought I’d start by thinking about one really powerful idea that kept me thinking long after our session ended:

“Why do we need to know this?”

^ This question is one that often pops up in the classroom. Quite frankly, students often do not see a connection between the abstract and tedious work done in classroom and their lives outside of school, both future and present. This lack of connection is problematic for a number of reasons:

  1. Without this vital connection, we often encounter the “inert knowledge” problem; students learn something but they don’t know how to use it. This relates more broadly to issues of transfer: how can we help students to use something they have learned in one context, at one time, or on one type of task in a different context, time, or on a different task? I am currently taking a course about Transfer of Learning. While transfer is arguably a main goal of education, research has generally found weak support for transfer. Students often do not learn content in ways that facilitate applying knowledge later in life or in different situations (I hope to talk about this more in upcoming weeks!).
  2. A second issue is the lack of value assigned to content learned in school. Without understanding potential applications of a skill, students see little value in learning it in the first place. If I don’t value what I am learning, I am less motivated and engaged.

Connecting classroom and community through project and problem based learning…*

With this in mind, I loved hearing this TED talk by Cesar Harada: How I teach kids to love science. He connects science to real community problems, both local and abroad. From developing an invention to estimate plastic in polluted oceans to analyzing seabed radioactivity near the Fukushima nuclear power plant that was damaged in 2011, Harada’s students work on real and relevant work problems in their science classroom. This sort of problem and project-based experiential learning can help students see the relevance of science education. Furthermore, Harada is cultivating a generation of innovators and problem solvers. His classroom is a workshop. Through rapid prototyping with tools, his students have become scientists and inventors. As he says,

“So citizen scientists, makers, dreamers — we must prepare the next generation that cares about the environment and people, and that can actually do something about it.”

THE POWER OF CONNECTION

By connecting science skills to real-world issues, we can increase the relevance of school education and give our students much needed experience in using skills in a meaningful way. As illustrated by Cesar Harada, connecting schoolwork to real life problems has benefits beyond increasing value and transfer; we can empower students to be innovators and problem solvers.

This process of embedding learning in the community and in real, complex problems is something that we hope to include in our XQ proposal. By providing students with a variety of contexts in which their knowing can be directly applied, we can create a more engaging and useful education that has applicability far beyond the classroom…*

 

#RethinkHighSchool with XQ: The Super School Project

This month, the rethinkED team is getting excited about XQ: The Super School Project, Launched by Laurene Powell Jobs, this design challenge invites teams to reimagine the next American High School. Winners will receive support and $50 million to make their idea into a reality.

Screen Shot 2015-10-12 at 2.50.26 PM

Source: http://xqsuperschool.org/challenge

According to the XQ institute, XQ is the agile and flexible intelligence that prepares students for a more connected world, a rapidly changing future, and a lifetime of learning. It is a combination of IQ (cognitive capabilities) and EQ (emotional intelligence or how we learn in the world).

Soliciting “What If..”s from the world, the XQ project is a design thinking challenge operating on a massive scale. The challenge is broken into 4 phases: 1) Assemble a team, 2) Discover the landscape of education, 3) Design a super school for the community, and 4) Develop a formidable plan.

RethinkED is going to team up with other innovative and talented individuals for an intense day of dreaming and designing next week. As you’ve seen, we have a lot of ideas surround character education, interdisciplinary pedagogies, and community-focused learning, and we are excited to merge these into a coherent plan of action to #RethinkHighSchool.

P.S. The rethinkED team has recently grown! We have two new members, and we are super excited for you to meet them.

 

unleashing creativity with d.global…*

Hello, fellow rethinkers! I took a break this past summer from posting, but I am excited to be back and to share excited ideas about education with you.

This past weekend I participated in a d.global workshop, a design thinking challenge that the d.school at Stanford is taking around the world with the goal of unleashing the creative potential in all of us.nycinvite

In this seven-hour workshop, we went through a design thinking process to seek new insights and understandings towards large problems attendees were facing in their day-to-day lives. We began with three postures – short activities meant to establish a culture with specific norms and values. I discuss two below:

creative postures…*

Our first posture – “I am a tree”- brought everyone into the mindset of stepping forward and taking risks. This is an improv game where one person begins by standing as a tree in the center of the circle and states “I am a tree.” Next, another team member steps in and states what she is to complete the setting. For example, “I am a bird.” A third person then steps in and could say, “I am bird poop.” The first person steps out of the scene and chooses one person to remove as well, and then the game continues. Here’s a youtube video of an improv team performing “I am a tree,” since it is far easier to understand if you watch it happening.

After reflecting on risk-taking, we began our second posture – “Tada!” This game seeks to reframe failure. Teams of two play a variety of counting games where it is very easy to mess up. After reflecting on how our body language and demeanor was affected by these mess ups, we were instructed to instead shout “Tada!” each time our group failed, complete with a step forward and spirit fingers.

design challenges…*

In an ideation session, we developed questions pertinent to our own life goals and struggles. I focused on how to seek a work/life balance and how to better structure my days.IMG_7768

We then shared and synthesized these questions into more broad goals that groups of 5-6 could rally around. My group asked “How to design a life that has meaningful impact and is meaningful / life-giving to you?” Other questions are included in the photos below.IMG_7766IMG_7770

In a surprise twist, we were then tasked with seeking inspiration and ideas to solve another group’s problem, rather than our own. Our group was looking into the question “how to find passion and a reason to get out of bed in the morning” We spent time with the other group, building empathy and deeper understand of their question. We realized that the members of this group had diverse reasons for asking this question. Some were overwhelmed. Others lacked focus or drive. Generally, they all had issues around goal-setting and motivation. With this in mind, we began our three hour exploration of NYC, seeking inspiration and new perspectives to bring back with us.

how to life a motivated and passionate life...*

Our journey to seek empathy and new perspectives led us to talk to many people, and the conversations we had were wonderful and inspiring. A barista at a local coffee shop spoke of how his day job paid the bills while his passion was to become a theologian. He was slowly obtaining a Masters in Theology at night. He advised us to first focus on what has to get done, and then focus on what you’d like to get done. An employee at Old Navy worked two jobs during the day and found both to be fun and fulfilling. Outside of work, she was an aspiring dancer. Her advice to those who dread leaving bed in the morning was to be patient and to mix it up every once in a while.

Last, we spoke with a highly regarded trainer at a luxury fitness enter. He spoke of setting a combination of short and long-term goals and holding yourself accountable by writing things down and telling your friends or family about your goals.

Our final task as a group was to create a gift for the group we were designing for, based on our experiences that day. We decided to combine all of the nuggets of wisdom we noted throughout our exploration into a “choose your own adventure” poster, shown below:

IMG_7777

IMG_7774

IMG_7776

HOW TO LIVE A MEANINGFUL AND LIFE-GIVING LIFE…*

The group designing for us gifted us with a line from the poem Ulysses by Alfred Lord Tennyson shown below. This line is a beautiful representation of the desire to do good in the world that our group was struggling with.

I felt invigorated by the exploration of my city and inspired by the wonderful minds I spent the day designing with. This year, I hope to bring a similar experience to the Riverdale community.

Thank you, d.global, for a tremendous experience!

IMG_7781

 

{ Exciting New Course For Educators …* } Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning

{ Exciting New Course For Educators ...* } Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman Randolph

Exciting new (and free) learning opportunity for educators and knowmads coming up later this summer: Coursera’s Tinkering Fundamentals: A Constructionist Approach to STEM Learning online course. The course starts July 22 and runs through September 3, 2015.

Tinkering activities provide a powerful way to inspire students’ interest, engagement, and understanding in science. The Tinkering Fundamentals course will help educators and enthusiasts develop a practice of tinkering and making. This course will focus on key design elements of high-quality, science-rich tinkering activities, effective facilitation strategies and environmental organization.

This is a hands-on workshop, so you will need to obtain or purchase course materials as soon as possible. Pre-bundled materials kits will be available from the Exploratorium online store after June 1, or you can start gathering your own things using our recommended materials list.

Head over to Coursera to register for the course and check out the syllabus.

learn, tinker & rethink …*

{ virtual reality & empathy }: using technology to enhance the human experience

Earlier this year in a series of posts called “On Being A Cyborg“, I wrote about various technologies that enrich and assist us in living our lives. The defining quality of these technologies is that rather than pulling us away from the core human experience, I argued that they actually help make us more human.

Today I’d like to add to this list. After watching Chris Milk’s TED2015 talk – How virtual reality can create the ultimate empathy machine – I believe that virtual reality technology could be a solution to getting us to care, specifically about the people living in realities so far removed from ours that they are hard to imagine.

Milk wondered if there was a way that he could “use modern and developing technologies to tell stories in different ways and tell different kinds of stories that maybe [we] couldn’t tell using the traditional tools of filmmaking that we’ve been using for 100 years?” As he explains, “What I was trying to do was to build the ultimate empathy machine.

One such experiment in empathy machines is the interactive short film entitled Wilderness Downtown, a project with Arcade Fire that has an avatar running down a street, that you quickly realize is the one you grew up on. I actually used this little bit of virtual reality a few years back when he made it, and myself was delighted by the results. You can try this one using the link above.

His next attempt was an art installation – The Treachery of Sanctuary. In this piece, people were given the power to transform themselves into birds and bring them into flight using triptych technology.

Untitled-1_860_906

 

http://jamesgeorge.org/Treachery-of-Sanctuary

Perhaps most impressing is the film Clouds over Sidra. In this United Nations sponsored work, he uses virtual reality to create empathy for those living in a refugee camp in Jordan – placing them in three dimensional spaces while a 12-year-old refugee named Sidra tells the story of her life. As Milk explains

…when you’re sitting there in her room, watching her, you’re not watching it through a television screen, you’re not watching it through a window, you’re sitting there with her. When you look down, you’re sitting on the same ground that she’s sitting on. And because of that, you feel her humanity in a deeper way. You empathize with her in a deeper way.

Milk’s team is now making more of these films – currently shooting one in Liberia. And these films are now being shown to the people at the United Nations who can change the lives of those inside these virtual reality worlds.

The power of this medium to enhance human empathy is incredible. I’ve spoken before about multimedia literacy and about the problem with our society’s primacy of text over other modes of communication. Milk’s work is demonstrative of the power of other mediums beyond text to communicate things such as empathy – something that can be communicated in a written story, but may be communicated better in a virtual reality world.

As Mlik explains,

It’s not a video game peripheral. It connects humans to other humans in a profound way that I’ve never seen before in any other form of media. And it can change people’s perception of each other.And that’s how I think virtual reality has the potential to actually change the world.

So, it’s a machine, but through this machine we become more compassionate, we become more empathetic, and we become more connected.And ultimately, we become more human.

I would love to view one of his virtual reality films. Wouldn’t you?

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew Nothing …*

The Thing Is to Become a Master & In Your Old Age to Acquire the Courage to Do What Children Did When They Knew nothing ...* | rethinked.org - Photo: Elsa Fridman

I have been reading Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life-a treasure-trove of meditations on the creative life culled from Tharp’s long career as one of the world’s most acclaimed choreographers. Each chapter relates to a different aspect of creativity–think: Skill, Ruts and Grooves, Rituals of Preparation– and is accompanied by a handful of exercises to practice flexing your own creative muscles. It’s a quick, lovely and insightful read, which I highly recommend.

I’d like to highlight Tharp’s insights on one of the fundamental paradoxes faced by artists and rethinkers everywhere–that of finding the fragile equilibrium between seeking expertise and cultivating a beginner’s mind.

Every artist faces this paradox. Experience–the faith in your ability and the memory that you have done this before–is what gets you through the door. But experience also closes the door. You tend to rely on that memory and stick with what has worked before. You don’t try anything new. Inexperience is innocence, naïveté, and humility. It is a powerful ignorance that is summed up for me in an obituary I read of the All-American football player Ellis Jones. Jones, who died at age eighty in 2002, lost his right arm in an accident when he was eleven years old. But that didn’t stop him from playing guard offense and linebacker on defense in the 1940s at the University of Tulsa and later in the fledgling National Football League. “I played football before I got hurt,” said Jones of the accident that cost him his right arm. “It never occurred to me that I couldn’t keep playing. I guess I was too dumb to think I could not do it.” Inexperience provides us with a childlike fearlessness that is the polar opposite of the alleged wisdom that age confers on us, the “wisdom” telling us some goals are foolish, a waste of time, invitations to disaster. In its purest form, inexperience erases fear. You do not know what is and is not possible and therefore everything is possible.

It is that perfect moment of equipoise between knowing it all and knowing nothing that Hemingway was straining for when he said, “The thing is to become a master and in your old age to acquire the courage to do what children did when they knew nothing.” You cannot manufacture inexperience, but you can maintain it and protect what you have.

This balancing act–between confidence and humility, knowing and not knowing, fear and courage–is intimately tied to the concept of mastery.

Mastery is an elusive concept. You never know when you achieve it absolutely–and it may not help you to feel you’ve attained it. (Alexander the Great wept when he had no more worlds to conquer.) We can recognize it more readily in others than we can in ourselves. We all have to discover our own definition of it. 

I particularly love Tharp’s definition of mastery–mastery as courage and optimism to face the unknown and faith in your own capacity to transform your discovery into something of value.

More than anything, I associate mastery with optimism. It’s the feeling at the start of a project when I believe that my whole career has been preparation for this moment and I am saying, “Okay, let’s begin. Now I am ready.” Of course, you’re never one hundred percent ready, but that’s a part of mastery, too. It masks the insecurities and the gaps in technique and lets you believe that you are capable of anything.

Mastery then, in the creative realm at least, is more mindset than benchmark, like that of the child at the edge of the forest, excited and a little nervous to get lost in the woods but confident to face and transform what she will find.

Source: Tharp, Twyla. The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2006. Print.

{ Drawing As A Fundamental Instrument For Understanding …* } “When children are prevented from drawing, their brains don’t develop fully.”

“For me, drawing has always been the most fundamental way of engaging the world. I’m convinced that it is only through drawing that I actually look at things carefully and the act of drawing makes me conscious of what I’m looking at. If I wasn’t drawing, I sense that I would not be seeing. ” – Milton Glaser

If you’re looking for a mid-week pick me up, I highly recommend this short video of Milton Glaser drawing Shakespeare while reflecting on the role of drawing in his understanding of life and capacity to engage with the world around him.

“For me, drawing has always been an absolutely primary way of encountering reality. I’m astonished by drawing. I always think of every drawing as a kind of miraculous occurrence.”

MILTON GLASER DRAWS & LECTURES from TEAMVVORK on Vimeo.

draw, [re]think & understand …*

Hat Tip: Milton Glaser Draws Shakespeare & Explains Why Drawing is the Key to Understanding Life

{ whimsical urban spaces } for fostering play

live from AERA…*

I am currently attending the 2015 AERA (American Educational Research Association) conference in Chicago, and I have been attending and participating in a variety of exciting presentations, roundtables, and poster sessions about the many types of interesting research around education and its unique challenges. I am still making sense out of all I learned, and I hope to share some of the interesting talks with you in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, today I want to talk about this amazing playground I spotted here in downtown Chicago.

Fostering Play…*

Last week Elsa wrote about the importance of play in our ever-changing world, reminding us of the essential nature of play. Perhaps this was on my mind because during my free afternoon this weekend I was walking near Millennium Park and couldn’t help but stop to admire this incredible play space.

maggie-daley-2

Photo Eric X. via Yelp

Maggie Daley park is a $60 million, newly opened 20 acre recreational space, opened in 2014. It was designed by architect Michael Van Valkenburgh as “a counterpoint to the symmetry and formality of Grant Park… with..  curvilinear forms, dramatic topography, and many whimsical elements.” As described in this article, there is a 3-acre play garden designed in the spirit of “Alice in Wonderland” and “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory,” which is the piece of the park I stumbled upon . I was immediately enchanted by the surrealist, cartoon-like environment. Mayor Rahm Emanuel stated that the play garden “will allow kids to challenge themselves and do things they didn’t know they could do“.

In a world where I worry about childhoods lived behind a screen and enacted through highly constrained, scripted environments, I am so excited by this notion of fostering unstructured play. The rich narrative and creative potential of places like this is endless, and I find myself envious of the young children who will be enjoying the play garden this spring.

More pictures of this play space below. I will report back on my more academic experience at this conference next Monday!

IMG_5726

Children loved running up and down the rubbery foam hills, rather than using the stairs.

IMG_5728

A giant bridge connecting two towers. When I crossed, three young boys were working together to shake the bridge, excited at the prospect of making me fall (I remained upright, to their extreme disapointment).

IMG_5727

My colleague from Teachers College taking a turn on one of the slides.

IMG_5729

A web made of wires and ropes, where young boys created a clubhouse to call home.

{ Play Is Our Adaptive Wild Card } In Order to Adapt Successfully to a Changing World, We Need to Play …*

Bonobos, like humans, love to play throughout their entire lives. Play is not just child’s games. For us and them, play is foundational for bonding relationships and fostering tolerance. It’s where we learn to trust and where we learn about the rules of the game. Play increases creativity and resilience and it’s all about the generation of diversity —diversity of interactions, diversity of behaviors and diversity of connections. And when you watch Bonobos play you’re seeing the very evolutionary roots of human laughter, dance and ritual. Play is the glue that binds us together.” – Isabel Behncke Izquierdo

In this short and delightful TED talk, primatologist Isabel Behncke Izquierdo highlights some of the ways in which the highly playful Bonobos can teach us about successfully naviating “a future where we need to adapt to an increasingly challenging world through greater creativity and greater cooperation. The secret is that play is the key to these capacities. In other words, play is our adaptive wild card. In order to adapt successfully to a changing world, we need to play.” As you kick off the weekend, remember , “Play is not frivolous. Play is essential.”

Rethinking How We Define Passion & Why We Should Cultivate A Craftsman’s Mindset …*

Rethinking How We Define Passion & Why We Should Cultivate A Craftsman’s Mindset ...* | rethinked.org

I am reading a fascinating book on the history of the color palette and one of the chapters I was just reading addresses the historical shift of the perception of painting as a “craft profession to an art one.” This shift was accelerated in the mid-seventeenth century with the nascent field of ‘colormen,’ professionals who mixed raw materials into paints, something artists had mostly done themselves until that point.

“For “craftspeople” the ability to manage one’s material was all important; for “artists” the dirty jobs of mixing and grinding were simply time consuming obstacles to the main business of creation.”

[ . . . ]

“What was the good of painting a masterpiece if its constituent elements would spend the next few years fighting together chemically on the canvas, and ultimately turn black? The early seventeenth-centuy painter Anthony Van Dyck knew how to employ varnish so that colors that would otherwise react with each other would be safe from ruin; Victorian artists, however, did not, and this was, Holman Hunt predicted, to be their downfall. Part of the issue was that he–and his teachers, and his teachers’ teachers–had rarely had to mix paint from basic materials. He had never had to grind a rock, or powder a root, or burn a twig, or crush a dried insect. Nor, more importantly, had he observed the chemical reactions involved in paint-making and seen how colors changed over the years.”

Source: Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay

This reminded me of advice I read from Cal Newport about shifting from a ‘passion’ mindset, which has been a dominant cultural trope these past few decades–“what do I love to do and how do I do only that?”–to a “crafstman’s” mindset, a relentless focus on activating one’s unique potential by continually pushing to develop one’s skills and acquire new ones.

My advice is to abandon the passion mindset which asks “What does this job offer me? Am I happy with this job? Is it giving me everything I want?” Shift from that mindset to Steve Martin’s mindset, which is “What am I offering the world? How valuable am I? Am I really not that valuable? If I’m not that valuable, then I shouldn’t expect things in my working life. How can I get better?“ Like a craftsman, you find satisfaction in the development of your skill and then you leverage that skill once you have it to take control of your working life and build something that’s more long-term and meaningful… When I talk about the habits of the craftsman mindset, it’s really the habits of deliberate practice. So someone who has the craftsman mindset is trying to systematically build up valuable skills because that’s going to be their leverage, their capital for taking control of their career and they share the same habits you would see with violin players or athletes or chess players.

The craftsmen out there are not the guys checking their social media feeds every five minutes. They’re not looking for the easy win or the flow-state. They’re the guys that are out there three hours, pushing the skill. “This is hard but I’m going to master this new piece of software. I’m going to master this new mathematical framework.” That’s the mindset, the habit of the craftsman.

Source: Cal Newport on how you can be an expert and why you should *not* follow your passion

I think there is something about the craftsman’s mindset that is particularly important in our age of instant gratification and seemingly constant technological innovation. The abundant research on flow states is just one potent reminder of the joys and rewards to be found in taking the long road when creating something, whether it is a painting, a life or a career. Working through challenges is not a guarantee for reaching a flow state, but without an appropriate degree of difficulty relative to one’s skill level, without stretching past what we know, flow is impossible.

We need a collective rethink in how we define passion. Passion is not easy nor instantaneously gratifying and it is certainly not always joyful. When we ignore the painful aspects of passion, we lose out on the chance to ferociously pursue the possibility of living meaningful and fulfilling lives where we have the potential to contribute to something bigger than ourselves. 

“Passion has little to do with euphoria and everything to do with patience. It is not about feeling good. It is about endurance. Like patience, passion comes from the same Latin root: pati. It does not mean to flow with exuberance. It means to suffer.” – Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves 

learn, practice, create & rethink …* 

%d bloggers like this: